Meanderings of a Minister


Where Is God?
September 7, 2017, 11:58 am
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This last week, I have been saddened, horrified, and greatly disturbed and drawn to prayer for the state of Texas and the Houston area as Hurricane Harvey has devastated the area.  Over 300,000 homes without power.  Over a trillion gallons of water have fallen.  People have had to be rescued from their houses with air mattresses floating down rivers where streets once were walked.  The devastation from the storm is perhaps even greater than Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans and its surrounding area in recent history.

As I have thought about this storm and its terror, I have been drawn to scripture to consider God’s perspective.  I certainly don’t want to be flippant or trite in my approach to this question, but I was drawn to another storm in scripture to find comfort.

In Acts 27, Paul had been arrested, jailed, threatened, and had to appeal to Caesar to keep from being turned over to an angry mob that wanted him dead because he was telling people Jesus is the only way to Heaven.  As he was traveling to Rome, he advised not to try to travel by ship because of the weather, but was ignored.

As they were traveling, they ran into a storm.  The ship couldn’t possibly make it to their intended port.  They were battered for over 14 days and went without food out of desperation.  They finally found land and headed for it only to run aground on a sandbar.  The storm was so ferocious that the stern of the ship was literally being torn apart by the force of the waves.  The soldiers were going to kill the prisoners, but were prevented by the office in charge.  The entire group of 276 jumped over the side of the ship and swan or floated ashore.  When they got there, it started to rain and the temperature dropped.  The natives built a fire to make them warm.  As Paul gathered sticks for the fire, a snake crawled out and bit him.  The people assumed he was a murderer and that fate was getting even.  When nothing happened to him, they changed their minds and thought he was a god.  Eventually, Paul traveled on to Rome where he was imprisoned until his execution.

As I thought about this story, I realized a few things that apply to the current situation in Texas and in many of our lives.  First, Christians are not immune to the storms of life.  Contrary to prosperity doctrine, suffering does not only come to those who do not have sufficient faith.  Storms come on everyone.  Some of them are more severe than others, but we are not immune.

When storms come, we also realize that God is with us.  It might not feel like it.  It might not seem like it.  We might not see Him.  We might not hear Him.  We might not feel Him, but He is there.  He sent an angel to comfort Paul.  He told Paul they shouldn’t take the trip.  He sent an angel to tell Paul they would survive.  He was there when Paul was bit by the snake and protected him from losing his life.

God was there for Paul and God is there in your storm as well.  I know that the future will display stories of God at work rescuing people, protecting people, and providing for people in Houston.  Sometimes it is hard to see God until the dark skies of the storm adjust our eyes to be able to see His glory.

If God is in the storm, then there is always hope.  When God told Paul they would survive, Paul was able to pass this along to the others.  They ate food, were encouraged, and were able to go on.  Why?  Because of hope.  Because they could believe that there was a better future ahead of them.

For those who are in Christ, the future is bright.  No, we might not be delivered in this life.  We might not be promised to survive the storms we face, but when we close our eyes in this life, we open them to see Jesus.  That is a bright future.  This isn’t home, but heaven will be forever.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of this.  Especially in the storms of life that hurt the most.

Lastly, we see that God had a plan.  God had a purpose in what He allowed.  This is the hard part with storms like Hurricane Harvey.  I can’t imagine any scenario that would allow God to have a plan in the devastation that He is allowing.  For those who have lost every, I can’t imagine any feeling but loss and frustration, fear and anger, hopelessness and gloom.  But that does not change the fact that God is good, sovereign, and still saves.  Did God bring the storm?  Some will say that.  I am not sure.  But what I do know is that no storm, however big, can overcome God’s position on the throne.

If you are facing a storm right now, cling to the reality that you are not being punished for not having enough faith.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you still face storms.  God is there.  There is hope.  God has a plan to get you out.  It might not be realized this side of heaven, but you will not stay in the storm forever.  It might not seem like it, but you won’t.  Look up to God and hold on to Him for He is certainly holding on to you.

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On Earth As It Is In Heaven or In Heaven As It Is On Earth?

I know that I have written on this topic before, but recently, I was reading the description of the throne room of heaven in Revelation 4 and 5.  Here is what I noticed about heaven.

First, John is shown heaven, but the first thing that catches his eye is the throne and God seated on that throne.  John is nearly overcome with the scene.  He noticed the colors, sounds, and focus of heaven as being totally about God on the throne.  From rainbows, to thunder and lightning, to creatures and lamps of fire, John gives the picture that all of heaven is focused on the worship of God Almighty.

Next, John mentioned the cries of the living creatures as they proclaim the holiness of God when they say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come.”  They all give God glory and recognize the focus of heaven is God.

Additionally, John mentioned the twenty-four elders joining in on the worship.  They cast their crowns before the throne as they confess, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Lastly, even when it came time to begin to open the scroll, all of heaven was focused on God the Father and God the Son as Jesus was the only One worthy to open the scroll that would mark the end of times and the judgments and deliverances that were to come.

As one looks at this version of heaven, one is left with a sick feeling that much else we have heard of heaven may or may not be accurate.  For many people, the idea of heaven is them finally getting everything they want.  They will be comforted, pampered, served, catered to, and never expected to do anything.  God will exist to serve their needs.  This is not heaven as God has described it to us.

It seems that in heaven, we will realize what it was we wanted all along.  We will finally get to see God on the throne of heaven!  We will no longer worship an invisible God, but will see Him as He is.  We will get to join in the activity of heaven and worship God for eternity.  We will know that we are in heaven because of God’s will and we will be challenged as we see Him high and lifted up.

Now, you might be thinking that this version of heaven does not sound appealing because it is not focused on you.  Perhaps the problem with much of our lives now is that we think too much should be focused on us.  As it is, we think we are owed respect.  We think we have a right to be honored.  We think others should serve us.  That is what causes a lot of the heartache we experience.  People disrespect us and we get mad.  They devalue us and we feel hurt.  They demand that we serve them and we feel cheated.

If heaven teaches us anything, it teaches us of the holiness of God and His rightful, ruling place over all creation and beyond.  We are not the focus.  He is.  For many, this is hard to take.

So, what do we do with this knowledge?  Perhaps, it is as simple as putting others first and serving them.  Perhaps it is as simple as honoring those who faithfully serve us.  There may be many other applications, but they would all seem to indicate we need to be changed so that our focus on earth is as it will be in heaven, if we know Jesus as Lord and Savior.



Joy Check Up
May 26, 2017, 2:57 pm
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In 1 John, John wrote to his readers and hearers about how to have joy in the Christian walk.  They were struggling and had forgotten the “good” part of the good news.  They had lost their joy for a number of reasons.  As you read through this list, you might stop and ask if you have lost your joy in serving Jesus for a similar reason.

In 1 John 1:4, John said, “These things we write, so that our joy maybe made complete.”  What was causing his hearers and readers to need their joy to be made complete?  I am glad you asked.

(1 John 1:5-7) First, his readers were struggling with the effects of sin in their lives.  Some struggled with living in sin as a normal way of life.  They may have figured that they were saved and had been forgiven of their sins (which is true), so it did not matter how they lived (which is not true).  As they sinned, the Holy Spirit would not leave them alone, but convicted them of sin to draw them back to God so that they felt no peace or joy.

(1 John 1:8) Others struggled with fearing that they might sin in the future and God might deny them entrance into His presence or His Kingdom.  They thought that they had to be perfect in order to earn God’s forgiveness and love.  Because they lived with this fear each day, there was no joy or peace in their lives because they could never really truly know that they are accepted and included in God’s family.

(1 John 1:10) Still yet others struggled with believing the sin of their past was forgiven.  Every time they looked in the mirror, they remembered the words they had spoken in anger, the money they stole, the promise they had broken or the life they had taken.  Since they remembered it, they figured God did as well and that they would never be free from the guilt and shame that caused them to want to crawl under the table and hide.

In the middle of all of this incredible amount of tension, weight and pressure, John dropped a truth that we often quote, but seldom actually stop and listen to.  What is that truth?

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You might be tempted to think, “Wait!  What?  That seems too easy!”  It could not be simpler, but it is not easy at all.  This verse is written to believers.  We are told that we need to confess our sins.  What does confess mean?  It means that we need to first agree with God about our sins.  What does God think of our sins?  They are foul, horrible, evil, and in stark opposition and an offense to His holiness and goodness.  They are so foul that they cost the life of His Only Begotten Son.  So, we must agree with Him about our sins and the evil that produces them in us.

We must also agree with Him about the need to turn away from those sins and to trust in God for His forgiveness and grace.  Notice the parts.  First, turn away from the sins.  There is no such thing as confessing sins with any semblance of an intention to continue in them.  Next, we trust in God for His forgiveness.  And then we must trust in God’s grace to carry us through.

So, how is your joy right now?  Is there something that you need to confess to God?  You don’t need to go to a priest or pastor, just talk to God and agree with Him about your sin, turn away from your sin, trust your life to God’s direction and agree with God that His grace is sufficient for your forgiveness and deliverance.  That is way to joy.  At least in the first part of 1 John.



“Is This Really What Jesus Told You Guys to Be Doing?”
May 19, 2017, 2:55 pm
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This is the question that Matt Casper asked Jim Henderson in the book, Jim and Casper Go To Church.  Casper is an atheist and was traveling to visit churches with Jim Henderson, a retired pastor.  The purpose of their visits was to get the reaction of the atheist to what the churches were doing.  At the end of their visits, and prior to writing the book, Casper asked Jim this very question, “Is This Really What Jesus Told You Guys to Be Doing?”  While I certainly do not agree with many of the ideas contained in the book, this question has not left me.

For many of us today, we have gotten to the point that church is somewhere we go to pay someone (or many someones) to do something to us.  It is basically seen by many as simply another service we seek (no pun intended).  We look at our weekend errands and see things like:  1.  Go grocery shopping.  2.  Drop off the dry cleaning.  3.  Get the computer worked on.  4.  Wash the car.  5.  Go to church.  But isn’t the Christian life supposed to be much more than just being able to check a block off of a list of duties?  If it is, then what are we supposed to be doing?  Isn’t it good enough to just go to church and give our money?  Isn’t it enough to endure a sermon that is longer than I would prefer (and even without complaining!)?  Isn’t it enough to say I was there?  I mean, many people don’t go to church at all!  I have to be better than them, right?

While some people might be able to get away with looking at Christianity like this, I simply am not able.  When I think about what God sacrificed to make salvation available to me, I can’t help but thinking there must be more than just Sunday services.  What about living a life that shows how grateful I am to Him for doing so?  Like Paul in Romans 7, I think, “Wretched man that I am!  Who can set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Romans 7:24-25a)  What about learning to live free of the entanglements of sin?  What about developing in intimacy with Him?  What about seeing Him transform all areas of my life right down to the thoughts and intentions of my heart?

As important as even these thoughts are, there has to be even more, right?  I mean, doesn’t God want me to make a difference in His world so that others can know Him as well?  Yes, I need to give to support His work, but what about telling my story to people so they can hear about life with Him?  What about taking actions to correct wrong?  What about alleviating suffering, meeting needs and lifting people up?  What about letting my light shine before men so that they give glory to God (Matthew 5:16)?  What about making an actual difference (James 2:14-16)?

With all of this in mind, I am challenged to think about the summer that is already upon us.  For many of us, this is a time of turmoil and uncertainty as we step away from the routine of school, work and civic activity, but this does not mean that we should shut our hearts down or put our hearts on hold from God.  This can be a time when we have additional time to invest in God’s activity in our world.  This can be a time that we spend with friends at cookouts and ball games and can provide an excellent opportunity to get to know them and their struggles and do something to help.  This can be a time that we can involve ourselves in ministry more than normal.  It can be a time when we spend more time in prayer, bible study and devotion to God.  Why not take the time, this summer, to make a list of ways you would like to grow in your relationship with Christ and begin now to take steps towards that growth.  Who knows?  You just might find yourself where you would like to be.  And if you are looking for a place to plug in and serve, just ask.  There is plenty of ministry for everyone!



What Makes A Great Leader?
May 5, 2017, 2:48 pm
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Over the years, there have been some fantastic works on this subject.  Oswald Chambers’ Spiritual Leadership, Henry Blackaby and Henry Brandt’s Power of the Call, Henry Blackaby’s Spiritual Leaderhsip, Aubrey Malphurs’ Leading Leaders, James Garlow’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Tested by Time, Os Guiness’ When No One Sees and Tony Morgan’s Killing Cockroaches are just some Christian examples.  But when you get down to the basics of leadership, you really only have to deal with one definition.  What is that definition?  Simply…are people following?  If they are, you are a leader.  If they are not, you are not a leader.  It is that simple.  It actually has nothing to do with degrees (and, yes, I do have some of these).  It has nothing to do with how many leadership books you have read (I have those, too!).  It also has nothing to do with how many positions of leadership you have found yourself in (yep, this is also me!).  The simple question is…are people following?

Jesus was a great leader.  He had followers.  Paul was a great leader.  He had followers.  Peter was a great leader.  He had followers.  James was a great leader.  He had followers.  John was a great leader.  He had followers.  These men were all great leaders.  In our day, Billy Graham was a great leader.  He had followers.  Beth Moore is a great leader.  She has followers.  Anne Graham Lotz is a great leader.  She has followers.  John Piper, John MacArthur, Luis Palau, Crawford Loritts, Chip Ingram, Stormie Omartian.  All great leaders.  All have followers.  But what does it take to be a great leader?

Gordon MacDonald, in his book, Building Below the Waterline, lists four key strengths of great leaders.  I find these helpful and would encourage all of us that lead to look for these in our own lives.

Are you able to communicate vision?  Jesus told His disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven in terms they could understand.  He described it as a field to farmers, as a net of fish to fishermen, as sheep and goats to shepherds and so on and so forth.  What Jesus was doing in this was casting vision to His followers, so that they would get of glimpse of what He could clearly see.  Perhaps the reason that we don’t have more people following as leaders is because we can’t communicate vision because we have none.  We just want to get through the week without killing anyone or losing our jobs.  The height of the Christian experience for most Christian leaders is simply measured by how many times I gave in to whatever temptation I am struggling with at the moment.  A great leader sees a great vision with great clarity and communicates it the same way.

Are you sensitive to people?  This is another trait of a great leader.  Too many times, we see people as an interruption to the ministry we could have.  We tend to think they need to lead, follow or get out of the way.  While this might be right for them to wrestle with, a great leader is also sensitive to their needs, fears, limitations, etc.  Perhaps that person that seems like a wet blanket to all of your plans just can’t see your vision and maybe it is because they have been in this situation before and were hurt through it.  Maybe they need time to process what you have communicated.  Maybe they are just afraid of the unknown.  A great leader with be sensitive to these possibilities and will consider them when communicating his vision.

Can you assess situation accurately?  A great leader must be able to walk into a situation and realize who is in charge by title and who is in charge by personality.  A great leader must be able to recognize people whose expertise puts them in charge and who is simply in charge because they draw their self-esteem from being in charge.  He or she must also be able to recognize when the ship is driving itself because no one is in charge.  Additionally, a great leader must be able to look through the smoke and mirrors and see what is really going on.  (Notice how these competencies complement each other?)

Lastly, a great leader must also know him or herself.  Too often, we don’t know ourselves very well and that lack of knowledge makes communicating our visions tough.  It keeps us from being sensitive to people and it prevents us from properly assessing our situations.  We need to know if we are leading from some of the motives listed earlier.  We need to know our physical, emotional and spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

Leadership is simply defined as…is anyone following; however, people will want to follow leaders that can effectively see and communicate vision.  They will gravitate to those that are sensitive to people.  They will get on board with those that can assess situations with clarity of purpose.  They will be drawn to work with and serve a leader that knows his or herself with honesty to keep from using others to simply achieve their purposes.  Know of any leaders like that?  Are you one?  Would you like to be?  I would like to be some day.  How about you?



What Is Eternal Life?
September 9, 2016, 4:40 pm
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What Is Eternal Life?

From as far back as I can remember, I was taught to memorize John 3:16.  I think I can still type it from memory: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Yes, that was King James.  As some people consider this verse, they may be tempted to ask, “What is everlasting life?  Why is that something I would want?”

Fortunately, Jesus answered this question in John 17:3 as He was praying for God’s glory in us.  What?  You didn’t know that Jesus prayed directly for you?  In John 17:20, Jesus said, “I do not ask on behalf of these [disciples] alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word…”  If you are a follower of Christ, how did you hear about Him?  My guess is that you heard something from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or one of the other books of the New Testament.  Jesus prayed for those who would believe in Him because of the words recorded in, spoken by, and shared through His disciples.  As you have heard of Him and been taught in them, He was praying for you.

But, back to John 17:3 and what is this everlasting life?  Jesus defines everlasting or eternal life this way, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  So, what did He say?  Eternal life is knowing God.  The God Who created the universe and beyond.  The God who sustains every living creature throughout the creation.  The God who knows everything, can do anything He desires to do, and is everywhere all at the same time and throughout time.  Eternal life is to know Him!

But Jesus did not stop there.  He said eternal life is to know God, the only true God.  It is also to know Jesus, Whom God has sent to be the Savior of the world.  Eternal life is to know Jesus.  Not to just know about Him.  Many people in hell know about Jesus.  Eternal life is to be connected to, intimate with, and growing in Christ.  The One Who died so you would not have to live forever separated from God.  The only One through Whom runs the way to the Father of Heaven.  The only Name given under Heaven by which we must be saved.  Eternal life is to live connected to Christ from now until and into forever.

So, eternal life is living in relationship with God the Father and God the Son.  Jesus Himself said He would send His Holy Spirit as a comforter and helper to point us to Jesus, so we live in relationship within the Holy Community.  Now THAT is living!

So, how do we receive Eternal life?  According to Jesus, “You must be born again.” (John 3:3) But what does that mean?  You started your physical life at conception.  You started your spiritual life, if indeed you have started to live spiritually, when you surrender your life to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and begin to follow Him.  You live in relationship with Him and show others the superiority of a life lived in Him.  You no longer live for yourself, but for Him (2 Corinthians 5:15). He comes in and takes up residence on the throne of your heart and life and you live connected with Him from then on for eternity.

That’s eternal life.

So…

Do YOU have eternal life?  If not, why not?  If you do, are you sharing it with others?



Been There. Done That. Really?
July 21, 2016, 4:02 pm
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Bored-Button

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they said something that shocked me and made me think for a while.  We were talking about worship and Bible Study and this person said to me, “I don’t have time to go to church on Sunday mornings and, besides, I have read the entire Bible, what more could I learn?”  Needless to say, I was shocked and surprised.  I have studied the Bible for the last 24 years and 12 of those 24 years in formal theological education.  I have read thousands of books on various Biblical subjects and have even written a few.  I have been in Sunday School classes and seminars and have attended conferences, listened to sermons on tape, CD and the radio and I am convinced of one thing above all…I need to study more of the Bible so that I can know it and know God and obey Him!

I am not sure how we get to the point that we feel that we know all we need to know about God and the Bible.  I suspect that it is because we find ourselves in circumstances in which we cannot go to church on Sunday mornings and we use it as an excuse to help us feel better about not going.  I think this stems from getting further from God so that He does not seem quite as big anymore.  I am just guessing that no one ever really intends to go there, but we make choices that have consequences we don’t see coming and we find ourselves hanging out in the breeze and unable to find our footing.  One day, we look around and find that we cannot even remember the last time we read God’s word and it came to life and went to work right then in our lives.

I want to make sure that does not happen to anyone in my church.  That is the primary reason that we offer several opportunities to study God’s word together each week.  Of course, there is Sunday School.  Many people think of Sunday school as only for children, but this could not be further from the truth.  This is one of the best opportunities to study the Bible because we have dedicated teachers that study carefully to present each passage accurately and timely.  This is also a great opportunity because you get to interact with others and with the text.  If you don’t understand something, you have the opportunity to ask.  If you have some great insight you have discovered, you have someone to share it with.

We also have Sunday morning worship in which we get to worship God together through music, prayer, Bible study, and sharing our gifts, talents and treasures.  This is a great time because it is a time to be encouraged, challenged, corrected and directed directly from the word of God.  It is a time when we can be with other believers and provides a time to respond corporately and individually to God’s activity in our hearts and in our midst.

We provide a Sunday Evening Bible Study for those who work on Sunday morning or just want another opportunity to study God’s word.  Right now, we are working our way through the Life of David as we listen for God to instruct us by allowing us to view the mistakes of others and of seeing the lengths He is willing to go to reach us.  This is another excellent time to interact with the Bible and is taught by the Pastor.

There is a Wednesday morning Bible study for those that rise early.  It meets at 6:30 AM at a local business.  We have Thursday Evening Bible study in which we are studying the Minor Prophets in the Fall and then will move on to a study of the Book of Revelation.  We have a Tuesday morning study group for women, a small study group for men on Monday nights, and we have AWANA on Wednesdays to help children memorize and personalize the Bible in their own lives.  We have various small group studies that go on at various times throughout the year and are always open to other studies and opportunities as they present themselves.

I hope that no person associated with this church ever gets to the point that they feel as if they no longer need to study God’s word.  Even more than that, I hope that no one ever gets to the point that they feel there is no chance for them to do so.  I hope that we all grow up into Christ as our Head so that we can attain to the full measure of Christ.  Keep studying and keep growing.

If your church does not offer opportunities to study the Bible, maybe God would call you to volunteer to lead a group.  Pastors are very busy and can’t be expected to lead every study or group that wants to study, so maybe God is calling you to help.

Whether you are asked to teach a study of the Bible or attend one, whether you feel like you know a lot about the Bible already or very little, my prayer is that we will never become satisfied with where we are at in our knowledge of God and His Word, but will keep on growing.